Microsoft details Silverlight upgrade plans

64-bit capability is among the new features to be added in Silverlight 5, which will focus on business application usage

Microsoft's Silverlight rich Internet application platform, which has been the subject of speculation lately about its future, will get a refresh next year when the company releases Silverlight 5.

The upgrade will feature such capabilities as 64-bit support and improvements in areas like high-definition video and digital rights management. Business application usage is a key focus for Silverlight 5. Overall, Silverlight 5 boasts more than 40 new features, according to Microsoft.

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Recently, though, there has been confusion as to how much of a proirity Silverlight is for Microsoft. The company appeared to emphasize HTML5 while relegating Silverlight 5 to being primarily a platform for Windows Phone 7 application development. On the other hand, Microsoft has been stressing its commitment to the platform; Wednesday's announcement continues in that vein.

"The main importance [of the announcement] is that [Silverlight 5 is] on the road map, it's coming, and Microsoft continues to show its ability to iterate with regard to Silverlight based on four major releases in three years," said analyst Ray Valdes of Gartner. He speculated Microsoft was offering Silverlight 5 details a bit early to quash any mixed messages about the company's commitment to the platform.

Silverlight is Microsoft's technology for "premium" application experiences, said Brian Goldfarb, Microsoft director of developer platforms. "It will deliver the best experience as possible," he said. The company will, however, also support HTML5 in its Internet Explorer 9 browser, enabling developers to leverage standards-based application capabilities. Silverlight is being positioned for use in desktop and Web applications, as well as Windows Phone applications.

Silverlight 5 is set for a beta release in the second quarter of 2011, with general availability set for the second half of next year. Microsoft is detailing five sets of improvements as being focused on business applications. Among these is a 64-bit support, which will improve performance and memory usage. Native 64-bit Silverlight plug-ins will be enabled for use on 64-bit hardware and 64-bit browsers, Goldfarb said.

Silverlight 5 also will feature a runtime and tools for better animation and layouts for user interfaces, he said. Developers can continue to use Microsoft's Visual Studio and Expression toolsets for building Silverlight applications. Improved graphics support, meanwhile, enables use of 3D capabilities for advanced business data visualization.

Communications and networking improvements include real-time capabilities to accommodate low-latency applications, such as a stock updating application. The fifth area geared to business applications is to enable developers to build a new class of trusted applications in which users can access their files and launch other desktop programs, such as Microsoft Word, from within Silverlight. This capability allows developers to build more traditional applications instead of just typical Web browser applications, Goldfarb explained.

Also for business application development, Model View ViewModel and data binding capabilities let more work be done more easily via XAML. Digital rights management improvements enable seamless switching between DRM media sources. Another capability on the docket for Silverlight 5 is the ability to host HTML content inside of a Silverlight application in a browser. "It gives developers more flexibility and choice," Goldfarb said.

Silverlight 5 will include capabilities for 1080D high-definition video on lower-end devices such as netbooks. Hardware decoding functionality capability will enable video playbacks via graphics processing units as opposed to CPUs. A capability called TrickPlay will allow video to be played at different speeds while supporting fast -forward and rewind, with audio pitch correction. 

Silverlight has had to vie with the more-established Adobe Flash rich Internet application platform and now, HTML5. But Goldfarb stressed the vitality of the technology, citing its use at prominent companies like NetFlix, eBay, SAP, and National Instruments.

Silverlight is supported on Windows, Macintosh, and Windows Phone. Novell, meanwhile, has offered a Linux version of Silverlight called Moonlight. Goldfarb expressed optimism that there would be a version of Moonlight with Silverlight 5 capabilities. Novell's Miguel de Icaza, who has headed up Moonlight development, said Attachmate's acquisition of Novell would not impact future releases of Moonlight.

This article, "Microsoft details Silverlight upgrade plans," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Follow the latest developments in business technology news and get a digest of the key stories each day in the InfoWorld Daily newsletter.

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Paul Krill

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